The Big Top
Welcome to Azerbaijan, Good Luck. That’s what the sign at the border said. I’m not kidding. It made me chuckle as I passed under the sign on the way to immigration. I had no idea how prescient that sign would turn out to be. We’d been warned. Our support staff in Azerbaijan would be difficult to communicate with and wouldn’t be good with details, I thought I was prepared. I crossed the border first, to meet Aydin and Araz. Immediately I could see that communication would be tough. Aydin spoke very broken English and Araz none at all. No big deal. I’ve dealt with these situations before, just talk slowly, use hand signs, repeat yourself often. I went over the route, three times. I explained how our system of lunch and dinner and flagging works, how may riders we have, asked about where we were staying etc.. etc… “NO PROBLEM, NO PROBLEM, I ARRANGE EVERYTHING was Aydin’s response (Aydin doesn’t speak as much as yell). Well. At the end of the day we had a 3 day transit paper for our vehicle (our trip thru Azerbaijan would take 5 days). We missed a turn and took a route that was 20 kms longer than it should have been, and our hotel had been double booked. Welcome to Azerbaijan, good luck.
The good news is that Azerbaijan is a beautiful country, the riding was easy, the riders took everything in stride, and we all made it safely to the Karavanserai in Sheki (a beautiful and historic Silk Route hotel). Over the next few days we would face similar frustrations but also have some really nice experiences. I visited a village in the Caucus Mountains where for 4 generations they have made carpets, rugs and pillows by hand. The men herd sheep and shear the wool. The women dye the wool using plants and soil and weave it into intricate patterns. A small bath mat sized rug taking a month to make and larger ones up to 4 months. We sat with them and had chai, homemade bread and cheese from sheep’s milk. The view from the house was stunning and family was as welcoming as any I have met. Experiences like that make all the frustration worthwhile, in fact the frustration make those experiences even better. As I write this now I am in Baku. The issue with the van has been sorted out, I’ve had a nap and shower and it seems that the upredictable ferry to Turkmentistan might actually leave on the 18th as planned.
Aydin, our local guide, is obviously well connected in Baku. As frustrating as it was to work with him on out route to the capital city once we arrived he helped to arrange visas, ferry tickets and to fix our problem with the van with efficiency and confidence. He is an interesting character. He studied tourism in school in the Soviet union (Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet union until 1991) and travelled all over the USSR as a tour guide. He is affable, in a coarse way, generous at times and we had some fun moments together, in between yelling at each other. Now that we are settled in Baku and will (hopefully) be on the ferry to Turkmenbashi the day after tomorrow I think the time spent with Aydin and Araz will be one of the better memories of the trip.